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780km (485 miles) NE of Bangkok; 180km (112 miles) NE of Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai is Thailand's northernmost province. The Mekong River makes its borders with Laos to the east and Myanmar to the west. The smaller yet scenic Mae Kok River, which supports many hill-tribe villages along its banks, flows right through the provincial capital of the same name.

Often characterized as the “poor cousin” of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai City lies in a broad fertile valley, with tree-lined riverbanks and a refreshingly cool climate (at least by Thai standards). That moniker isn’t all bad though, and while popular sites are more subdued than in Chiang Mai, like the Night Market and Walking Street, Chiang Mai lures travelers weary of traffic and pollution in Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai is a lush place to bed down for a night or two before going further afield for trekking and trips to Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle.

Because the journey from Chiang Mai takes only 3 hours, it is possible to see Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle in a very aggressive day trip, but you'll need to get an early start and allow a full day of car travel.